Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Cutting State Employee Pay: A Republican Diversion From Their Own Budget Malfeasance

First of all, let me just say that I think the issue of pay cuts for anyone, whether it be legislators, staffers, auto workers, journalists, the kid working at the Taco Bell, anyone in this time of deep recession, is a real bad idea. With consumer spending being two thirds of the American economic engine, denying that engine of oil right now is the epitome of "stupid". People who have to take pay cuts don't go out and buy cars, for example. Even legislators. You can make the argument that we need to change our ways and stop consuming so much of the world's resources, and that is very true, but you couldn't have picked a worse time to try and do that. The reason the recession is so deep is that consumer spending has stopped dead in its tracks. More pay cuts = more lost jobs at this point.

Even with all that being said, it's still important to point out that the House GOP stunt yesterday, coupled with the Senate Republican stunt on cutting executive staff pay recently, highlights the incredible hypocrisy that goes on when it comes to Republicans defending their compensation, while insisting others must take a cut. Let's start with the House GOP, and their excuse on why they can't seem to give back any of their salary. The AP provides the pertinent point: No one in the House has made any sacrifice for this deficit problem, and sorry, but "charity" doesn't do a thing for the state budget.

While the GOP said it would seek a 5 percent reduction in legislative office allotments and the salaries of legislative employees, no House members - either Democrat or Republican - are voluntarily giving back some of their pay to the state treasury. Granholm has been doing so, but Elsenheimer spokesman Bill Nowling said Elsenheimer gives some of his salary to charity.

Nowling said it is procedurally difficult to return pay to the treasury.

Really. The governor has managed to do it, why can't legislators? "It's too hard!" Is that Ken Sikkema in your pocket, or are you just lying to us again? If it indeed is "too hard", perhaps you all should resign right now. We can't have you handling complex issues like budgets and making laws if you can't do a task that more determined people have figured out - after all, besides the governor, Van Woerkon and Brown in the Senate managed to find a way.

Which brings us to the Senate Republicans, and their insistence that the executive appointees should take a pay cut. Here's Chatty Matty Marsden, a few weeks ago, doing the diversion dance when the SOCC passed the pay cut for legislators. "Cut someone else!", was his cry.

Bishop's spokesman, Matt Marsden, said it's time for Granholm to cut the pay of her 177 appointees in the executive office and other state departments. That, Marsden said, would save the state more money than cutting legislators' pay.


"This is another example of the administration refusing to take an immediate step to address a $1.6-billion deficit," Marsden said.

Yes, $1.5 million will go a heckuva long way in filling a $1.6 billion dollar hole (ahem), but tell us, Matt, why is it that your staff shouldn't be asked to take "immediate steps" to address the deficit? The sharp team at MIRS did a study and found that 72 legislative staffers would make more than legislators themselves after a lawmaker pay cut, that they asked that very question of Marsden yesterday. Here is the reply, with an added extra dose of Nowling hypocrisy as well.

Matt MARSDEN, spokesman for the Senate majority leader, said the highest-earning legislative staffers on the Senate levels have, by and large, a lot of experience under their belts and are compensated for the experience and level of service they are doing compared to their counterparts in the private sector.

Even though staff levels are down, Marsden noted that staff members are increasingly finding themselves filling an important experience role as term limits purge the old-timers from the Capitol.

"In the past couple of weeks there's been a lot of salary examination going on, but let me tell you, AIG we are not in the Senate," he said.

Many of the higher-paid staffers also have advanced levels of education, including law degrees and master's degrees, said Bill NOWLING, spokesman for the House Republicans.

"We are professionals and we tend to make what the market pays for professionals," he said.

But those state employees and staffers at the executive are beneath you folks in the legislature, right? They aren't educated professionals. Sure. OK. As Pete Hoekstra would say, "I don't see any inconsistency at all".

Which brings us to the budget deficit. Both the House and the Senate Republican leadership says that this needs to be done immediately! because the deficit is increasing by the day. If that is true, why oh why are they acting to make the problem worse? Finally, finally, finally, it is starting to come out that the Senate has been playing fast and loose with the tax cuts this year, and any cries about "the budget" are pretty ridiculous when you consider the damage the Senate Republicans would do to our fiscal situation. Peter Luke mentioned it Sunday, and the AP picked up on it yesterday. It's about time.

Republicans who control the Senate have approved more than $2 billion worth of tax cuts and credits this year but have not proposed a way to offset the revenue losses with spending cuts, drawing criticism from Democrats who say the GOP is trying to make the budget situation even worse.

If they have cut an additional $2 billion, and we were in the hole $1.6 billion to start and probably closer to $2 billion now - that's nearly $4 billion in cuts that they will have to make out of a (roughly) $9 billion budget. You think people are complaining about the cuts Granholm made? Can't wait to see what comes out of the Senate. They might be moving those budgets this week; let's see if they take into account the additional revenue cuts they have made.

Until then, I don't think we need to be taking any advice from the Republicans on cutting other people's pay OR the budget deficit. Until they start walking the talk, it's just a bunch of pointless diversion for the TV cameras and has no basis in fiscal reality.